Workers at Newport condo in Jersey City walk off job to protest labor negotiations

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Porters, handymen and concierges with the New York-based property services union 32BJ SEIU walked off the job today at a Newport condo building because they say the condo board is refusing to bargain in good faith.

By Marc Bussanich/Hudson County View

Billy Valdez is one of 11 workers who work at the James Monroe Condominium, located at 45 River Dr South, and he is part of the bargaining committee that is trying to negotiate a new contract that expired on December 31, 2019.

According to the union, the bargaining committee was even willing to extend the terms of the expired contract until the state of emergency is lifted as a show of good will.

Instead, the condo board, led by the board president, Padmam Palani, wants to slash wages, as well as eliminate pensions and overtime and has filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the union is the one that is bargaining in bad faith.

Valdez has been working at James Monroe for 30 years and he said he’s never experienced these types of onerous demands.

“They want to cut our pay by $4 per hour. This has been the same board for the past few years and this is the first time we’ve had to endure this. It’s like he just flipped the switch. He never offered great contracts before, but we can’t go along with the elimination of overtime and our pensions,” said Valdez.

When Valdez heard directly from the condo board about their demands, he said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“At that point, for the first time, we as employees were not appreciated by this board president,” Valdez said.

Workers were brought in today to replace union members and while they hope to reconvene negotiations with the condo board, Valdez doesn’t see a settlement coming any time soon soon.

When questioned if the union will have to strike, he said that seems like the only alternative.

“I don’t really see any other option, I really don’t.”

The James Monroe Condominium is located Downtown and the union received support from Ward E Councilman James Solomon. In a statement, he said that essential workers deserve raises, not cuts.

“The workers at the James Monroe Condo are on the front lines. I stand with them as they fight against a condo board that seeks cuts to their wages in the midst of this pandemic.”

Additionally, 32BJ SEIU Vice President and New Jersey Director Kevin Brown stated that it’s unconscionable for the condo board to try to use the pandemic to “undercut the workers’ wages, benefits and rights.”

The condo board did not immediately return inquiries seeking comment.